General Secretary Calls Brethren to a Time of Prayer for Haiti

Church of the Brethren Newsline
Jan. 14, 2010
A photo from happier times in Haiti shows a gathering of Brethren leaders of Eglise des Freres Haitiens (Church of the Brethren in Haiti). A call for the entire Brethren community to be in prayer for the Haitian people and the church there has come from Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger. Brethren Disaster Ministries is one of the organizations beginning the work of disaster relief in Haiti. The church’s Emergency Disaster Fund is receiving donations toward the effort at www.brethren.org/HaitiDonations . Prayers for Haiti are being gathered at www.brethren.org/HaitiPrayers . Updates from the Brethren involvement with Haiti will be offered at www.brethren.org/HaitiEarthquake . Brethren Disaster Ministries also is requesting donations of Gift of the Heart Hygiene Kits and School Kits, which should be sent to the Brethren Service Center, P.O. Box 188, New Windsor, MD 21776. For kit instructions go to www.churchworldservice.org/site/ PageServer?pagename=kits_main .

“In the darkest times, we can turn toward the Creator God and admit our frailty as part of this creation,” said Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger in a call for the entire denomination to enter into a time of prayer for Haiti.

“It is an interim step until the way is clear for us to individually take action. The call of the whole church to prayer is traditional Church of the Brethren, where together we discern what it is that God would have us do,” he said.

Noffsinger emphasized that prayer for Haiti in the current disaster situation “has a new element for us…. We have members of our church family we have not heard from and we don’t know their wellbeing and safety. And so a part of us is at risk.”

He called church members who are eager to personally take part in a relief effort to be patient and wait “until the right pathway to be involved emerges,” emphasizing that the Church of the Brethren is committed to a longterm relief effort in Haiti. “We’ll be in Haiti for the long haul.” Brethren Disaster Ministries executive director Roy Winter also stated that at this time volunteers are not yet needed.

Brethren Disaster Ministries plans relief effort
Brethren Disaster Ministries staff are continuing to monitor the situation in Haiti and consulting with ecumenical colleagues and groups including Church World Service (CWS).

In the initial phase of response, “we can be much more efficient working with CWS and other partners,” Winter said. Brethren Disaster Ministries is to participate in the relief work of ecumenical organizations such as CWS and local partners such as SSID (Servicio Social de Iglesias Dominicanas), a church organization in the Dominican Republic.

“It may be quite awhile before rebuilding begins to respond to the earthquake,” Winter reported in a conference call with several denominational staff yesterday morning. At this time volunteers are not yet needed. “We will wait until we have plans in place and until understandings about travel are much clearer. At some time (in the future) we expect to need volunteer groups working. That will come.”

Plans for a longterm Church of the Brethren response to the earthquake in Haiti include support for Haitian Brethren and the most vulnerable in the Port-au-Prince area, Winter said. It also may include the involvement of Children’s Disaster Services in helping children affected by the earthquake learn resiliency and become comfortable with the new situation in Port-au-Prince, he added.

Brethren Disaster Ministries will continue its ongoing project in Haiti to finish rebuilding homes damaged by the hurricanes that hit the island in 2008, Winter announced. Jeff Boshart, who is coordinating the project, concurred, saying, “There are still people living in terrible conditions in Gonaives.” That city suffered severe flooding in the storms of 2008.

An additional allocation of $60,000 from the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund for the current rebuilding project in Haiti was given today. The grant is expected to be the final allocation for the project, to support “phase three” of construction of homes in Gonaives. Previous grants to this project have totaled $445,000.

Updates from the situation in Haiti
Church of the Brethren staff and Brethren Disaster Ministries have received a number of updates from Brethren and others related to the church who have been affected by the situation in Haiti since an earthquake hit near the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

However, as of yesterday evening staff have been unable to contact leaders of Eglise des Freres Haitiens (Church of the Brethren in Haiti), and have received reports that many Haitian members of Brethren congregations in New York and Florida have been unable to contact family in Haiti.

Brethren congregations in New York who have a number of members of Haitian background–including Haitian First Church of New York and Brooklyn First Church of the Brethren–have been in prayer for family members living in Haiti. “They’re kind of sitting on pins and needles right now,” said Brooklyn First pastor Jonathan Bream, who called to check in with denominational staff this morning. “They just don’t know because of the lack of communication.”

Verel Montauban in Brooklyn has yet to hear from family members in Haiti, he told Jeff Boshart, coordinator of the Brethren Disaster Ministries’ current rebuilding project in Haiti. But one of his church members, a deacon, has lost two family members as a house collapsed on them.

At least one licensed minister in Atlantic Southeast District has received word of the death of a close family member in the earthquake.

Brethren Disaster Ministries reports that the US State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 888-407-4747.

Mission groups in Haiti
There have been at least three mission groups from US Church of the Brethren congregations either in Haiti currently, or there earlier this week or planning to travel later this week. A group of young adults from Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren are in Haiti currently on a mission trip. The group has reported that they are okay.

In Shenandoah District, one church group returned from Haiti Tuesday morning before the earthquake happened, and one was planning to arrive in Haiti later this week, according to a prayer request from district executive Jim Miller and associate executive Joan Daggett.

Their e-mail reported that Doug Southers of Rileyville (Va.) Church of the Brethren is in Haiti but has called home by cell phone and is safe. He had traveled to Haiti last weekend to make preparations for a group from the Rileyville church that was to travel to Haiti later this week.

“We are glad for the safe return of Henry and Janet Elsea and volunteers from the Mount Pleasant Church (in Harrisonburg, Va.) who arrived home early Tuesday morning,” the Shenandoah District leaders wrote.

They also wrote that at least one Brethren-related church building has been destroyed; this has yet to be confirmed by denominational staff.

Prayer requests from ecumenical partners
IMA World Health has requested prayer for three staff who work out of the organization’s headquarters at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md.–Rick Santos, Sarla Chand, Ann Varghese–and IMA’s five local national staff in Haiti–Abdel Direny, Giannie Jean Baptiste, Execkiel Milar, Ambroise Sylvain, and Franck Monestime. As of yesterday evening all were unaccounted for in Port-au-Prince.

“Our staff were involved in partner meetings connected with our Neglected Tropical Disease Program and working from our offices in Port-au-Prince,” said the prayer request from Carol Hulver, assistant to the president of IMA World Health. “IMA has been actively reaching out for additional information on our staff’s well-being and safety through various channels but have received no confirmation as yet. We would appreciate the prayers of our Church of the Brethren community for the safety of our staff members and for comfort, healing, and restoration for the city of Port-au-Prince and the entire nation of Haiti.”

SERRV president and CEO Bob Chase has passed along word from Gisele Fleurant, a former member of the SERRV Board whose CAH artisan enterprise in Port-au-Prince has been a long-time producer for SERRV. SERRV is a nonprofit alternative trade and development organization originally begun by the Church of the Brethren with warehouses and a store at the Brethren Service Center.

Fleurant spoke last September at the 60th anniversary celebration of SERRV at the Brethren Service Center. A work group of Brethren visited her operation in Port-au-Prince in November.

She wrote from Haiti: “It is total chaos! CAH has only fence walls that are down! My house same thing with a lot of crackling which makes it impossible to live in unless major repairs! …So far most of cell phones are working but with a lot of difficulties. I know only of two CAH employees that lost their houses completely and are with their families in public places…. In my neighborhood we had a lot of deaths, mostly children trapped when the houses were falling. Please pass the news to all as I do not know how long that Internet will work. I will try to keep in touch! Thanks for caring and keeping us in your prayers!”

UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) is expressing concern for Sam Dixon, its top executive, who has been in Haiti along with Clinton Rabb, head of the United Methodist denomination’s Mission Volunteers; and James Gulley, an UMCOR consultant.”No one has been able to reach the three men since the earthquake occurred and communications with Haiti have been difficult,” said the United Methodist release today.

In news from other denominations, the Roman Catholic Church has reported to CNN that Joseph Serge Miot, the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, died in the earthquake.

How to contribute to the relief effort in Haiti
The Emergency Disaster Fund is now receiving donations toward earthquake relief work in Haiti. Find the online donation page at www.brethren.org/HaitiDonations

A special web page “Prayers for Haiti” has been created for church members, congregations, and others concerned about the people of Haiti to express their prayers following the earthquake, go to www.brethren.org/HaitiPrayers .

An online updates page offers updates on the Haiti earthquake relief effort, find it at www.brethren.org/HaitiEarthquake .

Donations of relief supplies also are needed. Brethren Disaster Ministries is requesting donations of Gift of the Heart Hygiene Kits and School Kits, which will be in large demand in the area affected by the earthquake. The kits should be sent to the Brethren Service Center, P.O. Box 188, New Windsor, MD 21776. For instructions to make the kits, go to www.churchworldservice.org/site/PageServer?pagename=kits_main .

The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. Contact cobnews@brethren.org  to receive Newsline by e-mail or to submit news to the editor. For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.

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